Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March Awakening

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Ana├»s Nin)

In ancient Rome the month of March was designated as the first month of the year. It was the time when the cold and wet of winter began to abate. From the sleep of winter’s rest, the stirrings of a new round of growth begin to be felt, seen and smelled. The coverage of snow over the ground gives way to the sight of green earth (though family and friends in New England might question this timing!). Spring, and a new cycle of life, arrive. Unfortunately, for those ancient Romans spring also meant that it was time to begin new battlefield campaigns that were intended after the winter weather’s interlude; hence the name “March” was derived from their god of war, Mars. God’s time of birth was also Man’s time of destruction.

Somewhere along the line, as calendar structures were manipulated, January became seen as the new start of the year. A shame. March has the sense of starting, of beginning fresh, of planting new seeds for growth. March should be the time when we make our new resolutions, setting new intentions and directions, rather than in the middle of winter’s oppressiveness. Winter is our time of rest from our previous efforts; spring is our time to begin a new round of efforts to plant, nurture, grow and harvest.

The seeds we plant can be physical ones, set into the ground, resulting in food for our bodies, visual treats for our eyes, or new tools by which nature continues Her never-ending reproductive cycle. But the seeds can also be the ideas and plans we have for creating new physical structures or conceptual entities. Or perhaps most importantly, we can plant new seeds (i.e. intentional steps) for our own personal growth in spirit, character and wisdom.

It is certainly easier to stay in a kind of spiritual winter, perpetually at rest, in a kind of detached slumber from life and its creativity that calls to us. But living a true spirituality is like everything else in life. It requires intention. It requires planting new seeds for food rather than living off of old, deadened growth that has run its course. It requires the water and fertilizer of outside nourishments in order to grow to fruition. It requires vigilance and protections against destructive elements which will otherwise compete with if not defeat our spiritual crop. If, in spite of all the weather and attacking pests, insects and disease, we somehow manage to grow our spiritual plantings to full maturity, we then need to harvest it. Celebrate it, honor it, and unabashedly feast upon its reward.

Stepping out of the darkness of our winter cave can be scary; the bright glare of spiritual sunlight can be blinding at times. But in the hibernating darkness of the cave we wither, living off our old accumulated fat. In the warm sun we are renewed and live life fresh again, fueled by Purpose and nourished by a knowing Faith.

Happy New Year! What spiritual seeds are each of us planting for this year’s harvest?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Passing Into History

There was a small news article that passed by recently. Perhaps you noticed it, but likely not. It was a notice that Frank Buckles, then of Morgantown, WV, had died. I had not heard of Mr. Buckles before reading that article. But the significant point of this particular obituary was that Frank Buckles, age 100, was the last known American veteran of World War I. (2 other veterans from Great Britain still remain alive.)

Each death is a moment in time, and a point in life, worthy of noting. A person moves from one phase of existence to another. We feel joy for the new opportunity that person is now receiving, and – depending upon the circumstances – perhaps relief for the end of their immediate suffering. We feel regret, if not pain, at our end of earthly connection and loss of future interactions with that individual. We take some moments to reflect on the life that person lived: the benefits they gave to others, the ripple effects of their life, the impacts of their actions. Likely their life had consequences far beyond their own recognition; hopefully most of those consequences were for the betterment of others.

All these thoughts fill our minds at anyone’s death, no matter how well or not we may have personally known them. But some deaths may bring an additional recognition to us. Their passing is not only a personal individual loss, but also simultaneously a greater collective loss. The loss of one person has become a loss of a group of individuals – a passing of an era, a way of life, a collective experience. It is a moment when a personal memory, or a personalized relationship to our past, moves from a present connection into “history.”

When Frank Buckles died, hundreds of thousands of our (great-)grandparents moved from our living memory, a sense of live connection to our inherited story, into the permanent time capsule of “history.” No one is left to speak live of that event; no one is left from that group to show up and march at the veteran’s parade. A generation is now gone. “The Doughboys” cede way to “The Greatest Generation” – the next group now working its way ever more quickly into history.

As a Civil War history buff growing up in the 1950s, I remember being similarly struck by the deaths of the last Union and Confederate veterans of that war during that decade. The people and events I had been studying seemed so ancient; yet there were still these two people who had lived then, could still talk about that great event – until that absolute finality of their deaths. At that moment, the voices of hundreds of thousands of casualties and survivors went forever quiet. Nothing was now left except the history books, the letters, the gravestones, and the many granite memorials inscribed “Lest We Forget.” “Living history” moved to just “history.”

Time passes; and at certain points, time closes a door. Frank Buckles reminds us to pause and consider each life’s passing for whatever larger theme that life represents beyond that one individual, the bigger stories that each of us is a part of. And perhaps we should consider what each life represents before it dies – the impact, the relevance, the worthiness, and the meaningfulness of each of us in each day that we live.